For better, for worse, in papal congestion and in health, couple ready to tie the knot

 Francesca Fiore reviews plans for her wedding at Awbury Arboretum with caterer Stephen Dyke. The wedding will take place during the weekend of the pope's visit. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Francesca Fiore reviews plans for her wedding at Awbury Arboretum with caterer Stephen Dyke. The wedding will take place during the weekend of the pope's visit. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Francesca Fiore and her fiancé, Matt Kosinsky, were being so good. They started making wedding plans 18 months in advance. Last year, they nailed down the location for an outdoor ceremony at Awbury Arboretum on Sept. 26, then quickly lined up the photographer and caterer.

“We were ahead of the game,” said Fiore. “We were being really proactive.”

“For once, we were really on top of things,” said her mother, Stephanie Fiore. Then things started to unravel.

“I distinctly remember the pope made his announcement, we were coming back from Montreal,” said Stephanie Fiore. “We were frantically on the phone calling hotels. All of a sudden it dawned on us — this could be a problem.”

Wedding planners all over Philadelphia have been waving their arms in the air, warning off clients from sharing a weekend with Pope Francis. Heavy security, closed expressways, and booked hotels would make it next to impossible to stage a wedding when the pontiff is in town Sept. 26 and 27. But Fiore and Kosinsky dug in. Their plans were set, the deposits were cashed. Full speed ahead.

While the location – a former Quaker arboretum in Germantown – is not inside the “traffic box” security zone to be enforced during the papal visit, the restrictions will cause ripple effects throughout the region. For starters, with the Schuylkill Expressway and the Ben Franklin Bridge closed, how will  140 guests from West Chester and New Jersey get to Germantown?

The Kosinskys, a Polish Catholic family from Howell, New Jersey, will congregate on their turf and take a bus into Germantown, while the Fiores, Italian Catholics in West Chester, will charter their own bus in. They’ll gather to watch the couple officiate their own nuptials during an outdoor ceremony.

Chartered buses were hard to come by until recently, when vehicles reserved for papal pilgrims suddenly started to become available – a sign that the crowds planning to see the pope will not be as large as expected.

The caterer, however, will not be able to use its kitchen.

“Our restaurant is at 21st and Sansom Street, dead center of the box — the no-fly zone,” said Steven Dyke, catering manager with Day By Day. “We made arrangements to use a fellow caterer’s commissary in this area. We’ll be able to get our product up here on Thursday before they close the city down.”

As for accommodations, Stephanie Fiore scrambled to find beds for guests.

“I emailed my neighborhood,” she said. “‘Help, Francesca is getting married, we have nowhere to put guests.’ We got 30 beds in my neighborhood. They are the best neighbors in the world. I remember sitting at my desk that day, seeing the emails come in, and feeling emotional. They just saved my life.”

The Fiores realized that pope hysteria is contained to the Philadelphia area. Their guests coming from outside the region took little notice of the papal visit until the last minute.

“People were coming from Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey. They were not understanding the gravity of the situation,” said Francesca.

“A couple months ago, we started getting frantic calls … ‘We can’t find a room!'” added her mother. “She was on the emails, and I was concerned that it would stress her out. So I said, ‘OK, we’re going to handle this. Let’s remember, this is a happy occasion. Flexibility is important in this situation.’ I reminded people to stay positive.”

The Fiore-Kosinsky wedding echoes what the mayor of Philadelphia has been saying for months: Have a plan, everything will take longer than you expected, and it’s going to be a day to remember.

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